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2023 Vikings Training Camp Preview: Offensive Line

EAGAN, Minn. — Players are less than a week away from reporting for 2023 Vikings Training Camp presented by Omni Viking Lakes Hotel.

The first public practice is scheduled for Saturday, July 29, as part of Back Together Weekend presented by The Salvation Army.

In preparation for the return of football, we started a Vikings position-by-position preview:

Now, we'll take a look at the offensive line.

Roster refresher

Returning starters: LT Christian Darrisaw (14 games), LG Ezra Cleveland (17 games), C Garrett Bradbury (12 games), RG Ed Ingram (17 games) and RT Brian O'Neill (16 games)

Also on the roster: (listed alphabetically by last name): OL Alan Ali, T Blake Brandel, OL Jacky Chen, T Vederian Lowe, G/C Chris Reed, C Josh Sokol, G Olisaemeka Udoh, G/C Austin Schlottmann and OL Sam Schlueter

View photos from the Vikings Classic jersey photoshoot. The Classic throwback jerseys will be worn Week 12 of the 2023 season against the Bears on Monday Night Football.

2022 recap:

After opening their offseason with competition on the interior, the Vikings wound up going with one new starter, Ingram, who played all 1,168 of Minnesota's offensive snaps in his rookie season.

The combination of Darrisaw, Cleveland, Bradbury, Ingram and O'Neill remained intact through Minnesota's first 10 games before injuries rotated through the lineup.

Darrisaw was sidelined for three full games — the Patriots, Jets and Lions — because of concussions suffered at Buffalo and against Dallas. Blake Brandel filled in for Darrisaw in those games before the 2020 sixth-round selection suffered a knee injury at Detroit.

Before and after the time away, Darrisaw showed more and more evidence of what made him the 23rd overall selection of the 2021 NFL Draft.

O'Neill was again rolling along as the most-tenured Vikings offensive lineman, but he unfortunately suffered an Achilles injury in Week 17 at Green Bay while hustling during an interception return by the Packers. He was replaced by Udoh, who then started in Week 18 and the playoffs.

All told, the Vikings used six different combinations of starting offensive linemen (including the Wild Card Round of the NFC Playoffs).

Schlottmann filled in for Bradbury beginning in Week 14 before suffering a leg injury at Green Bay in Week 17. Reed relieved Schlottmann and started at Chicago in the regular-season finale.

Bradbury returned to the lineup to start Minnesota's first postseason contest since January 2020.

3 Key Questions for Vikings Offensive Linemen

1. Will Ingram take a step forward from Year 1 to Year 2?

Ingram experienced his share of growing pains as a rookie, but he kept his foot on the pedal and demonstrated durability through every offensive snap.

According to analytics site Pro Football Focus, Ingram's best games bookended the season, as he received a season-high grade of 79.3 against Green Bay in the season opener and a 70 at Chicago in Week 18. His lowest grades on the year were against the Lions in Week 3 (37.7) and the Cardinals in Week 8 (41.7).

Ingram allowed 11 sacks of Kirk Cousins (more on that under item No. 3) and 19 quarterback hits. But while he struggled in pass blocking, the rookie received a satisfactory of 64.2 for run blocking.

Vikings Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips acknowledged room for constructive criticism but also emphasized his confidence in Ingram and stressed the accomplishment of starting all 17 games (plus the postseason matchup) of his first NFL season.

"I couldn't be more pleased with our pick and the fact that he played the whole year, and he worked through the growing pains as a rookie – as any rookie in this league," Phillips said last month. "Particularly at offensive line where the slightest false step – a receiver can get away with a false step most times, but the slightest thing when you're inside, especially those interior three, and you've lost.

"So the way he handled that, he wasn't fazed by it, he didn't blink about any of that stuff. He just kept trying to do better," Phillips continued. "And he's in great shape. I think he looks really good. Looked good coming in, and I expect big things from him."

O'Neill, who plays next to Ingram on the line, spoke with media members in May and said he's already seen improvement from the youngster.

"Everybody says the jump from Year 1 to Year 2 is the biggest. It certainly was for me my rookie year, and I felt like it was for C.D. (Darrisaw). So we're hoping that's the same for [Ingram]," O'Neill said. "Even in meetings now, in the film room when we're sitting next to each other, we're starting to think the same way about blocks. Last year it was, 'Hey, this is how I see this,' and he says, 'OK.' And we try to meet in the middle somewhere. And now we're starting to see things the same way and really understand the deeper levels of the different blocks and schemes we're running."


Vikings Classic Jerseys Now Available

Shop the Classic jerseys the Vikings are bringing back to the field and wearing during the Week 1 home opener.

2. Will the starting 5 stay healthy?

It goes without saying, consistency is key at any position.

But at offensive line? It can truly be crucial.

The Vikings already are benefiting from continuity on their starting offensive line; next, the hope is that everyone stays healthy.

Minnesota showed last season it had some depth at o-line, as players like Brandel, Schlottmann and Udoh stepped in when their numbers were called, but avoiding a need for shuffling is always preferred.

Cousins spoke to the media in June and emphasized the importance of keeping guys healthy and together up front.

"There's an ability to call on previous reps. There's an ability for them to have work together where they really know each other well," Cousins said.

He also recognized that injuries are a nature of the business, and if anything should happen, he's grateful for an offensive line group that's proved to be resilient.

"I've played a lot of football with Oli. That just gives you comfort to know that he can do it, and he's really at his ideal position at right tackle, so you feel very confident in him. Austin Schlottmann, too, being able to come in at center in a pinch, or guard. You know he can do it. Chris Reed is the same way," Cousins said. "It's a bit of a luxury to have … depth where it's guys you've played with in previous snaps. That gives you confidence, because you know that guys get dinged up and you want that depth."

3. How will the Vikings OL better protect Cousins?

Cousins was sacked a career-high 46 times in 2022, which tied him with Geno Smith for the second most-sacked quarterback in the NFL.

That number was the most allowed by Minnesota since 51 in 2014, and it tied for eighth most in franchise history (since the 1970 merger).

Worth noting is the shift by the Vikings to throwing the ball more than running it, increasing the number of times the QB could be targeted. Cousins racked up 643 pass attempts, ranking third in the league.

Minnesota ranked 16th in the league in sacks-per-pass-attempt last season, and PFF gave the Vikings a pass-blocking grade of 66.6, which ranked 19th.

With Minnesota returning all five of its starters from 2022, and the offense in its second season under Head Coach Kevin O'Connell, all eyes will be on the offensive line and whether or not it keeps Cousins upright.